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Long-form storytelling in videogames (esp 40+ hour open worlds) has problems because most players never finish games and series have low retention.

Gamingtodaynews1f - Long-form storytelling in videogames (esp 40+ hour open worlds) has problems because most players never finish games and series have low retention.

At The Game Awards, Ubisoft revealed Far Cry: New Dawn, and Bioware revealed the new Dragon Age. Both these games are direct sequels to very long open world stories with a big twist towards the end that a majority of players never experienced personally. The real plot twists in Dragon Age: Inquisition were contained in the Trespasser DLC.

#DreadWolfRises goes the hashtag. Most potential players of Dragon Age 4 have no clue who the Dread Wolf is. Even if you say, "It's Solas, you remember Solas, right?" They're gonna be lost because they just remember Solas as that soft-spoken elf dude. What the heck is a Dread Wolf?

Similarly, a huge percentage of Far Cry 5 players never reached the end of the game. The premise for Far Cry: New Dawn is a gigantic spoiler that Ubi had no choice but to spoil en-masse. It's a sequel. Fans of Far Cry 5 with an interest in the story are gonna have a lot to chew over because Joseph Seed plays a role in New Dawn's story and that'll be nice. But likely over 50% of players will have no clue about the events that transpired during Far Cry 5. At most they might know Joseph was the antagonist of Far Cry 5. They'll know about the twist because every New Dawn trailer has it.

This is not like movies. Take Marvel movies. They can assume that a particular percentage of Avengers 4 viewers have only seen one or two Marvel movies. Maybe this is their first movie. But they can assume that if they have watched at least one Marvel movie, they actually finished the movie. With videogames you have to assume a majority of your audience got bored 30 minutes into Avengers: Infinity War — the only Marvel film they ever bothered watching — and wandered away. The big twist in Infinity War? If it were a videogame, a huge percentage of the audience would not have any recollection of that twist. They tuned out 30 minutes into the movie. That's the difference between a two hour movie and a 20-40 hour long videogame.

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This leads to a lot of soft reboots. They keep the canon and lore intact for themselves and for the passionate fans, but they write the story in a way that new audiences can understand it. Series retention with videogames is very low. A huge percentage of the people who played The Witcher 3 never played The Witcher 2, and even fewer played The Witcher. Same deal with games like Mass Effect. (And of course Dragon Age.)


Jason Schreier has noted that developers have told him that singleplayer story DLC suffers very poor sales. This is backed up by achievements for games like Dishonored and Bioshock having player rates around the 5-10% mark. You'd be amazed how many beloved singleplayer DLCs were played by 1/10 or 1/20 of players. 9/10 of the people who played Dishonored 2, assuming they also played Dishonored 1, probably had no idea who Delilah was. As we learned recently, player numbers for episodic games like The Walking Dead have been terrible. In fact, all of Telltale's games had massive drop-offs in player numbers. Almost all episodic games seem to meet this fate. Players just don't stick around. Trying to tell audiences a story over months or years in videogame form doesn't seem to work for general audiences. It'll work for the hardcore fans, and it's often inserted into games as a nod to them. But most developers are forced to constantly go back to soft reboots because the audience attention span doesn't stretch anywhere near the range of TV shows. Imagine if every single TV show experienced viewer dropoffs to a trickle by the end of each season. You start out with 5 million viewers each episode and 4 episodes later you've got 50,000 people. That's how episodic videogames and (most) story DLC work. People are always moving on to the next hot thing. They don't want to come back. They don't want to pick up where they left off.

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I personally love long-form storytelling in games. I love huge twists that build over years. I love recurring characters and plot threads resurfacing. But videogames are a bad medium for this because most people don't care. Outside a passionate minority, most people don't really care about the plot, and they don't finish the games so they don't really care what comes next. And they're not interested in playing older games — this is a huge problem. It's very easy to convince people to watch Iron Man 1 before they watch Iron Man 3. It's remarkably difficult to convince people to play a videogame older than a year. Again, the time investment of videogames is a huge factor there. They're just so much longer than a movie.

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